In case you have not noticed, Michele and I are the yin yang of the pop culture blog. She usually concentrates on cheery stories about weddings and babies while I tend to focus a bit on the darker side of fame. I mean, after all, you have to admit that Hollywood has its share of tragedies. But, all areas of fame have their dark side, their tragic stories of the good gone bad. Such is the case of 50’s super disc jockey Alan Freed.
I had briefly mentioned Alan Freed when I was talking about Jesse Blevin, a singer who died at the age of 27. Belvin’s song “Goodnight My Love” was Freed’s closing theme for his popular radio show. Freed was known as one of the few disc jockeys that would promote rhythm and blues music played by African American artists. Many artists, such as Little Richard and Chuck Berry, see Freed as being the catalyst that broke down the walls of racial barriers for musicians during the 50s.
Freed, also known as Moondog, had a late night show called “The Moondog Rock Roll House Party” on WJW-AM in 1951. He also promoted dances and concerts that featured the artists he played on the radio. In fact, he is credited with creating the first rock-n-roll concert, the Moondog Coronation Ball in March 1952. So many fans showed up that it had to close early. This guy had the youth of America in the palm of his hand with his show.
Freed eventually moved to New York City where he worked for WINS, then on to WABC 770 AM. It was at WABC that Freed would meet his downfall. He was accused of accepting money to play specific records. It would become known as the payola scandal. Because he had songwriting co-credits on some songs (such as Berry’s Maybellene), by playing those, he would receive more royalties. Freed said the monies he had received from record companies were for consultation, but he was fired. Another disc jockey by the name of Dick Clark just narrowly missed persecution. He was investigated and while not charged, he was forced by ABC to divest his publishing and recording interests. In 1962, Freed finally pleaded guilty to two charges of commercial bribery, for which he paid a fine and received a suspended sentence.
By this time, Freed was 41 years old and the scandal ruined his career. He bounced around at few stations in Santa Monica and Miami, but he would never again achieve the fame he once had. He died in Palm Springs, California at the age of 43. It was due to uremia and cirrhosis of the liver, brought about by alcoholism.
If you want to learn more about Alan Freed, I would suggest checking out the movie American Hot Wax (PG). This is a great 1978 film that shows Freed’s life at the height of his popularity. It stars Tim McIntire (as Freed), Fran Drescher, Laraine Newman, and Jay Leno.